Thank you, Mrs. Griffin.
This genuine expression of gratitude is long overdue, and I hope it sheds light on why I began the Teacher Voice project.
As I told Ernest Hooper a few weeks ago, the first time I ever spoke up about anything affecting our school district was in late February of 2016. I was concerned about the changes being implemented to the new teacher mentor program, a role in which I was then serving. The questions I sent to Marlene Sokol were reprinted verbatim on the Tampa Bay Times Gradebook blog, and my phone started blowing up when it was published online.
The following Monday, February 29th, I sat in a room with 24 other new teacher mentors, Mrs. Griffin, and one of the assistant superintendents, Mrs. McManus, both of whom came to hear out our concerns. Many of my peers were deeply bothered by the sudden change to a successful program, and rightly so. For the entire duration of the meeting, I sat mute, listening, taking it all in.
Toward the end of said meeting, Mrs. Griffin said a famous quote I had even used in my original email: in dark times we must speak truth to power.
I couldn’t agree with her more then, and I still believe this is the case now more than ever.
Several months went by before I spoke publicly at my first school board meeting. Emboldened by Mrs. Griffin’s endorsement of my voice, my wife and I addressed the board on November 1st, 2016. I even used the line and publicly thanked Mrs. Griffin that day.
This was then followed by a 75 minute conversation in January of 2017 with our Superintendent, Jeff Eakins, who encouraged me to use my “voice” by writing op-eds, reaching out to legislators, and other public education advocacy efforts.
I mulled this over for the next several months before finally taking the plunge, and “Teacher Voice” was born on 6/17/17 when I wrote my first post (be sure to come back for a special edition one year anniversary podcast with someone who every public education advocate knows!).
And then today this unfortunate piece appeared in La Gaceta.
To be honest, the publisher, Patrick Manteiga, should be ashamed for multiple reasons, least of which as a “journalist” he should try to steer clear of sensationalism in all of its forms. Although this bit of #FakeNews reads like a gossip column in the National Enquirer or, better yet, World Weekly News, he doesn’t even properly contextualize the comments being made when he decided to include me in this conversation.
And so to set the record straight, let’s recap:
On November 12th, 2017, I sent a joint message to both Melissa Snively and Lynn Gray, two of our other school board members who oversee HCPS. This was two days before the first planned rally of our local union, Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, and, for the sake of full disclosure, I had asked them to make a motion to suspend the rules on employee comment so that all teachers and ESPs could be heard at the 11/14/17 school board meeting. This was after I had already written an open letter to the entire school board asking them to do the very same thing, because a few months earlier Susan Valdes had established a similar precedent by allowing a large number of speakers from the Hispanic community to bring their concerns to the board.
I had sent this message to them through this medium for two reasons: 1) I didn’t know if they would see it in time had I sent it via my regular school email; 2) I wanted to suggest that they make the motion and second it because they have often been the two members who publicly and frequently advocate for the employees of HCPS while on the dais.
Today, however, Mr. Manteiga made it sound as if this conversation had taken place on March 10th, which is patently incorrect and demonstrates a lack of fact-checking on the part of not only a “journalist”, but a responsible publisher.
The reason I even mentioned Mrs. Snively being chair and Mrs. Gray being vice chair was because I was asking their permission to make this suggestion in my public comments. Mrs. Snively never even responded to my inquiry–which calls into question the speculative claim that any Sunshine Laws had been violated–and Mrs. Gray only answered me nearly four months after the fact on March 10th of 2018. Therefore, if one were to watch my public comment on 11/14, he or she would see that I do not make said suggestion before that evening’s board reorganization.
Moreover, this was only one month after the very public spat between Members Griffin and Shamburger at a board training concerning communication, and the general public was quickly losing faith in the leadership of our school district.
Questions remain, however. Did I break protocol by reaching out to Members Snively and Gray via the Facebook Messenger medium this one time? Possibly. But I did out of haste in trying to ascertain their opinion on the matter, as well as deference and respect to their position as elected officials.
Larger questions loom, though. As a Theory of Knowledge teacher who has an entire unit on ethics as an Area of Knowledge, I cannot help but wonder how these pictures of Member Snively’s Facebook account were acquired.
Was her account hacked and the claim that she left it open merely a ruse?
Even if it were left open, does any person, even an elected official, not have some expectation of privacy on a device that may be left logged in? For instance, if I were to leave my laptop open and logged into my Facebook page in a public forum such as a library, does that mean any person in said public forum has the right to walk up to my computer and use it as he or she sees fit?
What right did the person who garnered these pictures have to snoop through her account? It’s not as if all of these messages were displayed simultaneously on one page, so clearly someone had to select several message feeds in order to gain access to these conversations did they not?
As an elected official working to meet the needs of constituents in the 21st century, is it not reasonable to expect that many people reach out to Member Snively via Facebook Messenger to communicate their concerns? If so, is it not possible that the private information and issues of citizens from Hillsborough County have been compromised in what appears to be an unethical (illegal?) search of this device?
Again, what does Patrick Manteiga gain by publishing what amounts to a gossip column on his website or in his paper? Does he have any relationship with other school board members who might seek a political advantage by airing these messages? (I’ll save the reader the time by unequivocally stating that, yes, he does)
There are more questions I could generate, but they will only belabor the point. In closing, I want to again express my heartfelt thanks to Mrs. April Griffin for giving me the courage and moral fortitude to speak truth to power. I started the Teacher Voice project to do just that, whether it be our local school board or the Florida Legislature, and I will unapologetically continue to speak up and out about critical issues that affect public education, our students and their future.
P.S. – To all of my fellow colleagues who positively and directly affect the lives of the next generation of Floridians and U.S. citizens here in Hillsborough county and across the Sunshine State, may you enjoy a restful and rejuvenating break with your family and friends. Happy Summer!